A city where standards are so high that you can barely nip out to the boulangerie to buy a croissant (or ten) without your lippie, let alone stroll down Rue St. Honoré without a chignon, black dress and flawless make-up. In a city where style and class is embodied in everything from the women to the stunning window displays in Chanel, Dior and Louis Vuitton, it is imperative to have ‘un monde de beauté’ which matches. For most, particularly during my stay (it’s Fashion Week) Paris is about fashion and haute couture but for a beauty junkie like me, it’s about admiring, sourcing and buying the best beauty products the French can offer. Thus, I happily began my quest three years ago (when I had the privilege to live here) and continue to search to this day. From the most ridiculously expensive candles to a three-euro hand cream here are just a few of the gems I found…
The French value their skin care and dermatology with as much importance as their medicine and pharmaceuticals. The pharmacists (quite rightly) treat the condition of your complexion as part of your general health. They offer advice and carefully select the brands and range that they think most applicable for the customer. In any good pharmacy you will find a wide range of reputable French brands such as La Roche-Posay, Vichy, Bioderma and my favourite, Avène. The French pharmacist and my girlfriend were both insistent that I purchase the Bioderma Solution Micellaire (€9 for 250ml) that I recommended in the Perfect Base Part 1. I was more than willing to try, after hearing it so highly recommended – I will let you know how I get on.
My French girlfriend also highly recommended the brand Vichy for our similar combination to oily skin. The moisturiser has that lovely comforting smell and actually proved to be more hydrating than the Avène one, leaving my skin plump and moisturised.
Remember the good old days when the UK had Sephora? Due to the recession those days are long gone and British beauty lovers have to cross the channel in order to sample its delights. I used to spend every weekend meandering the aisles of the Champs Élysée’s branch spritzing, spraying and sampling everything from perfume to lipstick to moisturiser. Whilst Sephora stock every brand under the sun, the best thing about the shop is their own products.
Similar to Mac but without the price tag, Sephora has its own brand of everything from foundation to lip liners. In sparkly or matt, in absolutely any colour you desire, the counters are beauty porn for someone like me!
My French girlfriend highly recommended the Outrageous Volume mascara (€15) claiming it was just as good as my old favourite – YSL Faux Cils. Unsure that anything could compete I hesitantly purchased it and was prepared to put it to the test. I hate to let the French win in any form of competition but my girlfriend was right. It is without a doubt the best cheaper mascara I have ever used and whilst it might not be quite as good as the YSL one, it definitely gives it a run for its money.
I love a French supermarket. Not just because of its mass stock of decent wine and cheese but because the French in general seem to stock very cheap and good beauty products in their supermarkets. My favourite brand would have to Le Petit Marseillais. For example, the Le Petit Marseillais Recettes Méditerranéennes exfoliator costs €6.33 and has that lovely oily but grainy texture that scrubs the skin without harshly scratching the skin. It also has a delicious smell of almonds. The whole range seems to offer the same level of quality. There is an array of creamy shower gels that instantly turn your bathroom into a French flower garden!
Of course, I also had to bring back the Mixa hand cream I recommended in the I-Can’t-Live-Without-You-Range post. I had about 10 requests, as everyone seems to rate it so highly. Originally created for babies the brand is ultra nourishing and excellent for sensitive skin types. My French girlfriend assured me that the moisturiser for the body is of the same high standard for the same bargain price. I had to take her word for it as I was running out of space in my suitcase!
Parfumerie d’Hôtel Costes
Favoured by Carla Bruni, this classic and luxurious hotel is tucked away on a corner of Rue St Honoré, between Godiva and Miu Miu. Where the champagne flows daily and the rooms begin €400 a night the hotel naturally has its own perfumery. Stepping onto the plush carpe of the salle de thé, I was greeted by that ‘I’m-naturally-this-beautiful-and-chic’ type of French woman who presented me with an array of elegant bottles and candles. Trying each unique scent, I inhaled variations of delicate, clean, fresh notes that subtly reflected the luxury of the hotel and their rather expensive price tag. From room spray, to candles, to perfumes, to shower gel everyone can take home a piece of the Hotel de Costes. At €15 I opted for the shower gel, which was pretty much all I could afford!
Choosing your perfume should be ceremonious. It becomes your signature for the rest of your life which for some women takes years to perfect. Choosing your first perfume for a young French girl is like a right of passage and the place they to go is Annick Goutal. Hundreds or glass and gold bottles line their various boutiques whilst others are beautifully displayed in the windows. The boutiques have that bespoke kind of service where the ‘vendeuses’ are there to guide you and help you select notes and tones that match your style, preference and skin.
I had the opportunity to spend a lunch with three Parisian women of three generations. Since my French girlfriend had already given me the majority of her beauty advice I was more eager to pick the brains of her grandmother and mother.
Her grandmother was a typical ‘vraie parisienne’, gloriously ostentatious, chic, stylish and didn’t look a day over 65 despite verging on 80. I artfully asked her in my best French what her secret was for staying so young. She said that for her whole life she had used water, soap and the classic blue and white Nivea cream (slightly defeats the object of this blog). For anti-ageing she absolutely swore by the brand Sisley, which she said was worth every penny of its costly price. She also had very positive things to say about Lancôme. Typically French, she was hypercritical of herself. Where I saw a lively face that seemed many years younger than the reality, she saw lines. I admired her stubborn drive for perfection and her loyalty to French brands.
Her mother agreed with pretty much everything her own mother had to say. French women are like that, their beauty secrets are passed down from mother to daughter and continued throughout the generations. She didn’t have much of her own advice to offer but I think her general love for French wine and her joie de vivre is what kept her young and vivant – the ultimate beauty secret!